Dan Barnett's book review of Ten Miles of Roadside Archaeology Along the Old Humboldt Wagon Road:
In late August 2016 a fire began off Highway 32 at Santos Ranch Road, south of Forest Ranch, which eventually burned 88 acres, including the south rim of Upper Bidwell Park. According to former Chico State University professor Gregory White, co-owner of Sub Terra Consulting: Archaeology and Paleontology, several public trails sustained damage.
White identifies four “cultural resources” that are “eligible for the California Register of Historical Resources,” including portions of the Humboldt Wagon Road (built by John Bidwell). White’s project report, aimed at the rehabilitation of the area, provides detailed documentation of artifacts, including wagon tire ruts and even “a distinctive Coors 7-ounce can with a double church key opening, one of the very first aluminum beer cans made, dating to 1958-1959.”
As those affected by the Camp Fire wrestle with the enormity of the destruction, we must not forget the past. As a model of how it might be documented, White’s project is given a lively and accessible historical context in Ten Miles Of Roadside Archaeology Along The Old Humboldt Wagon Road.
The book, with hundreds of images, features contributions from ANCHR writers Nancy Leek (on Bidwell’s vision for the Chico and Humboldt Wagon Road, “open for business in 1863” as a toll road), David M. Brown (on the lure of mines; and a stage ride to Quincy), Ron Womack (on the “Hooligans and Heroes” of Ten-Mile House; and Wakefield’s Station, “a long day’s horseback ride from Chico”).
Josie Reifschneider-Smith, Publications Editor, writes on those who built the roadway and on Frank Bidwell Durkee, who, starting in 1919, pushed for improvements to the Humboldt Wagon Road.
Key to the book is public awareness of the destruction by inattention and vandalism of the rock fences, writes Reifschneider-Smith, “and the ruts carved into the tough volcanic bedrock by the iron-rimmed wheels of thousands of wagons and stagecoaches.” A group called Respect The Walls (nvcf.org/fund/respect-thewalls) is raising funds to preserve what has come before.
When tears are dry, and Paradise rises, let us applaud local historians and archaeologists as they preserve our own collective memories.
When Greg White approached ANCHR with an idea for a book based on his study of an area along Highway 32 affected by the August 2016 Santos Fire, he made a comment that struck a chord. He wanted to bridge the gap between local historians and archaeologists, which he hoped this book would do, or at least, be a step in the right direction.
This book is unique in terms of structure and how we approached it. The book is divided into two parts. Part One includes topics we found of interest in Greg's report that we expanded upon (John Bidwell's road building venture, Ten-Mile House, Frank Bidwell Durkee's push for a new road, the rock fences, and much more). Part Two contains Greg’s original report (with data removed about culturally sensitive sites).
We hope this book is entertaining, educational, and helps bridge the gap between professional archaeologists, local historians, and lay people alike. Above all, we want the history in this book, presented in context with area archaeology, to underscore the critical need for a strong public commitment to understand the importance of preserving historical features and their stories before they vanish for good. So buckle up and enjoy the ride on a road that still has a lot to tell us in every rut, curve, and detour along the way.